NEVER LIE TO THE COURT
It may sound like an obvious thing, but you should never lie to the Judge. You would be surprised just how many people lie to the Court and think they can get away with it. However, lies are discovered more often than you think, and the consequences for lying are very, very serious.
First off, lying to the Court is a crime. California Penal Code Section 118 says that every person who, having taken an oath to tell the truth, says that any material matter is true but which they know that it is false, is guilty of the crime of perjury. This carries with it serious criminal consequences, including fines and even sentencing to prison.
But it goes even further than that. Your lawyer cannot knowingly make a false statement of fact or law to the Court, or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the Court. California Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 3.3(a)(1). This means that your lawyer must knowingly not tell the Court any lies, or let a lie stand once they know the truth. In fact, your attorney can’t even ask a question if he knows the answer will be untrue.
But beyond the criminal consequences for lying to the Court, there is also a more subtle, but also a more pervasive consequence for lying to the Court, the effect on your credibility.
The Court’s view of you as an honest person cannot be overestimated or overemphasized. In the Family Court, your word is often the only thing that can establish a certain fact or support a claim that you assert. This is not a business lawsuit where there are contracts and records involved which can support your side. Many times, it is just your word against your spouse’s word about what happened and when. Everything from domestic violence to the times that you paid for something can come down to your word against theirs. If the Court ever comes to believe that you are a liar, then it will substantially weaken your position on all issues. And if it weakens your position at trial or hearing, then it will also weaken your position in any negotiation for settlement.
Simply put, if the Court doesn’t believe your word, then you will have to spend so much more money and time trying to prove your position on issues, and there will be many times when you will be simply unable to do that because the Court no longer trusts that you are telling the truth.
Let me illustrate with a recent case our office was involved in. Husband and Wife were married for over a decade but separated a few years back. We represented Wife. Husband had a retirement account before he was married to Wife, but how much was in that retirement account when they married was unknown. Very few people keep those kinds of records for decades, and even the financial company that was managing the retirement account did not keep their records that long ago.
So, Husband was in a real jam. As his lawyer surely explained to him, as the person who is claiming that the retirement account is his separate property, Husband had the duty to prove not only that the retirement account was acquired by him prior to his marriage, but also how much that retirement account was worth on the date of their marriage. Without this proof, there was a real danger of the entire retirement account being split 50/50 if the Court found this account to be community property.
Desperate, Husband decided to fake a financial statement showing the existence and the value of his retirement account from before the marriage. Husband got a co-worker to send him an old financial statement from around that time, and then used that co-worker’s statement as a template to manufacture his own fake financial statement by changing the name and a couple of numbers on his co-worker’s statement.
Then, Husband decided to attach this fake financial statement to a declaration that Husband signed under penalty of perjury and filed with the Court. This is not only wrong, it’s a crime. Remember, it is not just statements in Court that are under penalty of perjury, but all or nearly all the documents that you file with the Court will also be under penalty of perjury. Even your Petition, the first piece of paperwork you file with the Court, is under penalty of perjury.
Anyway, we learned that this financial statement was false. Husband had a long history of forging Wife’s signature to other documents, and so we did not trust him on anything. We hired a document expert to look at the financial statement, and that expert found a lot of things wrong with it and prove it was fake. Armed with this expert’s opinion along with evidence of Husband previous forging of Wife’s signature multiple times, we hammered Husband and his attorney in Court, destroying Husband’s credibility.
In the end, because Husband’s credibility was so thoroughly destroyed, Husband’s lawyer – after much forceful encouragement– agreed to give Wife most of the retirement account and the remaining community estate.
Telling the truth can be so important. Beyond going to jail or paying a fine, if the Court thinks that you are liar, then the Court is unlikely to ever give you the benefit of the doubt for anything.
At one point, Husband’s attorney obliquely questioned whether a document had been forged by our office, to which the Judge immediately said, “Doug would never do that.” That is the great reputation Mr. Pinkham and Pinkham & Associates has in our Courts. That’s how important honesty and disclosure is to our office, and that’s how powerful it can be in Court.